Doc Watch: The slow birth of unlimited energy, raising animals to be hunted

By Jim Slotek

The Large Hadron Collider’s theoretical creation of tiny black holes caused panic among some. Imagine their reaction when they hear scientists in the south of France are making a mini-Sun with a temperature of 150 million degrees C.

Or maybe not. The object is fusion, an energy source that could solve all our power problems forever. And they’ve been on the supposed verge of cracking it in the ‘50s, the ‘80s and again, now. The leading researcher are still working off a Soviet design called a “Tokamak,” which dates back to 1949.

A fusion-generating Tokamak in action in Let There Be Light

A fusion-generating Tokamak in action in Let There Be Light

Let There Be Light, by Canadian directors Mila Aung-Thwin (Up the Yangtze) and Van Royko (Monsoon) is a fascinating and thought-provoking look at the Holy Grail of energy sources. It’s seldom part of the politically-heated conversation about getting off the petro-teat for the sake of our planet. But $1 billion a year is being spent by 37 countries on the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), which is optimistically scheduled to power up by 2024.

Let There Be Light spends most, but not all, of its time on ITER - much of it through the eyes of American physicist Mark Henderson, who likens working on the project to being a builder of a Renaissance cathedral one may not live to see completed.

There are people with passion working on ITER. And there are bureaucrats and bureaucracy that has demonstrably hindered the project and soured some of the participants (including the U.S., which already pulled out once and is considering doing so again).

And there are other projects, some so small they’re practically garage labs (one developer says he doesn’t want his team using “anything you can’t buy in a Home Depot”).

Aung-Thwin and Royko do a remarkable job juggling reality versus dreams in Let There Be Light, never allowing either to overcome the other. Colorful personalities and animation help convey the sense of purpose that propels the researchers, while scenes of the sheer immensity of ITER in construction can’t help but suggest the near-impossibility of this monumental task.

Still, none but the worst pessimist will be unmoved by the thought of what could be the most important, game-changing technological leap for humankind in centuries.

Let There Be Light. Directed by Mila Aung-Thwin and Van Royko. Opens in Toronto, Friday, September 22 – Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema

 

 

For its shock value alone, I know plenty of squeamish animal lovers who would be well-advised to avoid Trophy, Shaul Schwarz and Christina Clusiau’s documentary about the Africa-centric movement to “commodify” big game hunting.

The movement’s proponents straight-facedly suggest that rhinos can be saved by being raised for the harmless harvesting of their horns, and that everything from lions to crocodiles – as species at least – can be preserved by being raised as prey for dentists from Minnesota.

Trophy is both exhaustive in the integrity of its approach and exhausting to watch. The viewer sees so many animals being killed as to be numbed by the end of its one-hour-49-minute running time.

Nocturnal goings-on in Trophy

Nocturnal goings-on in Trophy

That said, though, it is worth listening to the people who apparently believe things like, “No animal raised for profit has ever gone extinct.” It almost sounds reasonable, and then you watch a deep-pocketed American hunter walk up to a half-dead crocodile, shoot him in the head and yell, “Yeah, MF!” And you realize even our worst behavior can be rationalized.

That there’s a camera on him should concern the guy, considering the Internet-wide loathing that was directed at Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer for shooting a lion named Cecil. (The president of the South African Predator Association estimates that 70% of such rich-folk hunting-tourists come from the U.S. and Canada).

A recent Sundance and SXSW feature, Trophy takes us from one end of the for-profit hunting chain to the other – from a big-game safari tour convention in Las Vegas to the State Game Breeder Auction in South Africa. We hear claims that making the sale of rhino-horns illegal and banning import to North America of big game “souvenirs” actually encourages the activity of illegal poachers and hunters. There doesn’t seem to be a profitable course of action that actually increases the numbers among endangered species, though.

The cast of characters in this movie is large, and it seems we see the issue from every angle that exists. Any way you look at it, it’s unseemly business, far removed from the ethical dilemma of raising animals for food.

Trophy. Directed by Shaul Schwarz and co-directed by Christina Clusiau. Opens Friday, Sept. 22 in Toronto at the Carlton Cinema and in Ottawa at the Mayfair.